A Minor Mystery Solved

A more appropriate title for this post might have been “The Many Wives of James Casbon.” However, I’ll stick with the current title because it was finding the answer to the “minor mystery” that prompted me to write the post.

This is a cautionary tale. The caution is that one should be very careful about trusting “facts” that are listed in online family trees unless the evidence supporting those facts is documented and credible. In this case, the facts in question are the identities of the women who were married to James Casbon (~1813–1884).

When I did a search on Ancestry for James, listing his parents as Isaac and Susannah (Howes) Casbon, I found that he was included in 66 family trees. Six different women were named as his wives in these trees. Some trees only listed one of them while others listed up to five. A few of the trees simply said “unknown spouse”—a safe and reasonable approach. Several of the trees were private, meaning the names of James’s wives could not be viewed. Here are the names of the women, in order of frequency, in those trees I was able to view.

Elizabeth Waller             26 trees
Mary Cooper                   17 trees
Mary Payne                       7 trees
Mary Harper                     5 trees
Mary Jackson                    5 trees
Ann Mitch                         5 trees

How many of these women did James actually marry and which ones? I can say with confidence that only three marriages have been documented. I have copies or extracts of the marriage records of James to Elizabeth Waller in 1835,[1] Mary Jackson in 1866,[2] and Mary Payne in 1876.[3] There is no evidence that James married Mary Cooper, Mary Harper, or Ann Mitch. In the family trees where they are listed, no sources are provided other than other family trees. One could posit that James married another woman in the interval between Elizabeth’s death in 1852 and his marriage to Mary Jackson in 1866, but there are no records to support this (and no children born during this time listing James as the father).

Census and birth/baptism records show that all of James’s children were born to either Elizabeth Waller or Mary Jackson. (Alice Casbon’s birth in 1871 is not registered but given that it occurred just one month after the arrival of James and Mary in America, there is no reason to believe that anyone besides Mary Jackson was her mother.)

The marriage of record of James Casbon to Elizabeth Waller at Meldreth, Cambridgeshire, 25 July 1835; Meldreth parish records (Click on image to enlarge)
The marriage record of James Casbon and Mary Payne, Porter County, Indiana, 15 January 1876; Porter County Public Library (Click on image to enlarge)

So how did these other women come to be listed as James’s wives? There are several possible reasons. In the case of Ann Mitch, it is a matter of mistaken identity. There were two men named James Casbon in the early 1800s, both born in Meldreth, Cambridgeshire. One was born 7 September 1806.[4] He was the first cousin of the James of this post. The elder James married Ann Hitch (whose name has been incorrectly transcribed as Mitch in both Ancestry and FamilySearch) at Steeple Morden, Cambridgeshire on 15 December
1827.[5] Ann died in 1833 after bearing James one child (Alfred Hitch Casbon). It can be easy to make mistakes in family trees when two people have the same name. Although the younger James would have been only about 14 years old when the marriage to Ann Hitch occurred, some family historians have gotten around this discrepancy by assuming that there was only one man named James. However, this is not supported by later census records.

The case of Mary Cooper is harder to explain. James’s older brother William married a woman named Mary Cooper in 1829.[6] My best guess is that the name of William’s wife was incorrectly attached to James in a family tree and the incorrect information was passed on to others.

That brings me to Mary Harper. Where did the name come from? This was the minor mystery I learned the answer to this week.

I was updating some of my documentation and came upon the marriage license application of James’s and Mary (Jackson’s) daughter Alice Hannah Casbon to her second husband, Charles Hicks. Alice and Charles applied for the license at Starke County, Indiana on 4 March 1936 and were married the same day.[7] The application requests the names of the bride and groom’s parents. Alice wrote “Mary Harper” as her mother’s maiden name.

The marriage license application of Alice (Casbon) Edwards to Charles Hicks, 4 March 1936, Starke County, Indiana; FamilySearch (Click on image to enlarge)

This naturally raises the question: Wouldn’t Alice know her own mother’s name? In fact, there is good reason for her not to. Her mother died before Alice was 5 years old, and probably much earlier than that. (The date of Mary (Jackson’s) death is not recorded). Her father, James, died when Alice was 13. Mary Payne, her stepmother, might not have known the correct maiden name. Alice might have been told incorrectly that her mother’s surname was Harper or she might have misremembered what she was told.

At any rate, it appears that Alice herself was the source of the misinformation that was included later in family trees.

As I said earlier, one must be very careful about accepting genealogical “facts” at face value. Once incorrect information is made available in an online family tree, others might copy it to their own tree and it takes on a life of its own. A useful rule of thumb is to carefully review the source attributed to any “fact” in an online tree. If there are no sources attached or the only source is another family tree, one should not accept the fact as proven unless more reliable sources can be found.

Unfortunately, I must confess that I am one of the guilty parties here. I saw the names of Mary Cooper and Mary Harper in family trees many years ago and included them in my own tree. I even included them as possible wives in my first blog post about James in 2016. When I posted my tree to Ancestry I was still a relative beginner at genealogy and did not yet understand the need for careful source documentation or how easily misinformation could be spread. I kept the names in my tree for much longer than I should have after realizing that I had no evidence to support them. It’s likely that others copied the information from my tree and perpetuated the misinformation. I am much more diligent now.


[1] Cambridgeshire, England, Meldreth Parish, Register of marriages (1813–1867), p. 34, no. 100, 25 Jul 1835; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 29 August 2017), image 363 of 699; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 8.
[2] “Stretham Marriages 1558 – 1952,” PDF extract, Cambridge Family History Society (https://www.cfhs.org.uk/tokens/tokpub.cfm : downloaded 2 September 2017), >Casben >Stretham >Stretham Marriages 1558 – 1952, 3 Nov 1866; citing Stretham (Cambridgeshire) parish records.
[3] Indiana, Porter County, Marriage Record, vol. 4 [Sep 1871-Jan 1875], p. 348, 8 Jan 1876; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/005014495?cat=608739 : accessed 8 Apr 2020) > Film # 005014494 >image 693 of 928.
[4] Cambridgeshire, England, Meldreth Parish, Register of baptisms (1806–1812), baptisms 1807; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 28 April 2017), image 137; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 3.
[5] “England Marriages, 1538–1973 ,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:N2QC-7QV : accessed 19 October 2015), James Casbon and Ann Mitch, 15 Dec 1827; citing FHL microfilm 990,377.
[6] Cambridgeshire, England Melbourne Parish, Bishop’s transcripts for Melbourne, 1599-1847, (marriages beginning 1814) unnumbered page, no. 160, Wm Casbon & Mary Cooper, 14 Mar 1829; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007672882?cat=1109075 : accessed 12 Jul 2016) >image 529 of 682; citing FHL microfilm 2,358,010, item 2.
[7] Indiana, Starke County, marriage records, v. 10 (June 1934-January 1937), pp. 392–3, marriage license application; imaged in ” Marriage records, 1850-1957″, browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007742312?cat=574765 : accessed 27 Mar 19) > image 392 of 716; citing FHL film 2447544, item 3.

The First Family of James Casbon in England

I have written about James Casbon (~1813–1884) many times, but most of my focus has been on his later years in England, his emigration to the United States, and his children who grew up there. However, he lived most of his life in England and had a large family there by his first wife, Elizabeth Waller. I have never told the stories of James’s and Elizabeth’s children. They would have been adults by the time James departed from England with his second family (wife, Mary, and their children) in 1870.

Technically, James’s living descendants in the United States—some of whom I know and correspond with—are closer in kinship to their English cousins than they are to me, since I am descended from James’s brother Thomas.

James Casbon, undated photo; courtesy of Ron Casbon

I’ll begin with a brief review of James’s and Elizabeth’s lives in England. James’s birthdate is not recorded, but from census records, it seems that he was probably born at Meldreth, Cambridgeshire in 1813 or 1814. Elizabeth Waller was born at Meldreth 11 September 1815 and baptized 15 October of that year, the daughter of William and Sarah (Johnson)
Waller.[1] James and Elizabeth were married at Meldreth 25 July 1835.[2] Elizabeth died of consumption (tuberculosis) 16 August 1852 at the age of 36.[3] James’s whereabouts after her death are unknown until he appears in the vicinity of Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, sometime in the 1860s. He married his second wife, Mary Jackson, at Stretham, Cambridgeshire, in 1866.[4]

The immediate aftermath of Elizabeth’s death is unknown, but there is reason to believe that it had a catastrophic effect on the family. At least two of the children, and probably more, ended up at the local workhouse, a destination reserved for destitute families and paupers. By 1861, the first census after Elizabeth’s death, there is no trace of the family as a unit. Only one of the children can be found in that census with certainty. By then, many of them would have been old enough to enter the workforce, so it is not surprising that they cannot be found together. However, it is odd not to find them at all.

Here is a chart showing James, Elizabeth, and two generations of their descendants, followed by biographical sketches of their children.

Chart showing descendants of James and Elizabeth (Waller) Casbon, numbered by generation and arranged in birth order (Click on image to enlarge)

William Casbon (~1836–unknown)

I held off on writing this post until I knew the answer to the two-William problem. Now that I have the answer, I can be more confident in what I say about James’s eldest son, William.

The only certain records we have of William are the 1841 and 1851 censuses of Meldreth and Melbourn, respectively. His age is given as 5 in 1841 and 15 in 1851, giving an estimated birth year of 1836. The 1851 census also tells us that William had already entered the workforce as an agricultural labourer.

Detail from 1851 England census, Melbourn, Cambridgeshire, showing James Casbon and his family; William, age 15, is highlighted (Ancestry.com) (Click on image to enlarge)

After the 1851 census, the trail for William goes cold, or at least cool. I have found a few records that might pertain to him. The first is in a collection known as the “1861 Worldwide [British] Army Index” (Findmypast.com). The collection includes a record for William Casbon, a private assigned to the 1st Battalion 20th (East Devonshire) Regiment of Foot in Gorakhpur, India.[5] I think this was probably James’s son, especially since he does not turn up elsewhere in the 1861 England census. Given the likely disruption of the family following his mother’s death, it’s plausible that William could have enlisted in the Army, perhaps after a stint in the workhouse.

There are two more interesting records. The first is the baptismal record of William Casbon, son of William Casbon and Lydia Lovely, at Whaddon (a village 1 ½ miles from Meldreth) in 1867 (no date given).[6] The child appears to have born out of wedlock in about 1860, based on his name being listed as William Lovely, age 11, in the 1871 census.[7] It’s plausible but not possible to prove that James’s son William was the father.

The second record is an 1869 criminal court record describing the conviction of Eliza Bacon, age 29, for “feloniously marrying Robert Bacon, her husband William Casbon being alive.”[8] This record might also refer to our William, but there is insufficient information to connect it to him with certainty. I have been unable to find any record of marriage or death for William.

Sarah Casbon (~1837–unknown)

The oldest daughter of James and Elizabeth, Sarah was baptized at Meldreth 8 October 1837.[9] She appears in the 1841 and 1851 censuses and then disappears from view. She would have been 14 years old when her mother died. I haven’t been able to find any further marriage, death, or census records for Sarah.

Lydia (Ann) Casbon (~1840–1885)

Lydia was baptized at Meldreth 20 December 1840.[10] She married, at Chester, Cheshire, 28 August 1859, Daniel Cross.[11] What was Lydia doing at Chester, more than 140 miles from Meldreth? One can surmise that she had found a position of some kind there, either as a servant or dressmaker (her occupation in the 1861 census). The parish marriage record gives Lydia’s father’s occupation as “farmer.” This was an exaggeration, since James was an agricultural labourer, a far cry from one who farmed his own land.

Lydia and Daniel had one son, William, born in 1867. Although I have not traced the family any further, it is evident from other Ancestry family trees that William had a large family. Thus, it is likely that Lydia and Daniel have living descendants today. Lydia’s burial is recorded at Chester on 8 May 1885.[12]

Mary Casbon (~1841–unknown)

Mary was baptized at Meldreth 19 December 1841.[13] Like several of her siblings, she disappears after the 1851 census. Given her age at the time of her mother’s death—about 11 years old—she might have spent some time in the Royston Union workhouse. While researching for this post, I came upon an 1861 census listing for Matilda Casbin, age 19, housemaid at a private home in Westminster St. Martin in the Fields, London.[14] Matilda’s birthplace is listed as Meldreth, Cambridgeshire. Given the last name, the birthplace, the fact that there are no other records for Matilda Casbon, and no other Casbons of that approximate age from Meldreth who are unaccounted for, I think this could be Mary.

Thomas Casbon (1844–1924)

Thomas was born at Meldreth 20 September 1844 and baptized there 15 June 1845.[15] He would have been 8 years old when his mother died. I haven’t found him for certain on the 1861 census, but I have previously written about my theory that Thomas and his father might have been listed in the 1861 census of Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, under the surname Randle. Thomas appears in a few newspaper articles of the late 1860s and early 1870s for minor criminal offenses such as public drunkenness and trespassing. He is recorded in the 1871 census living at Barrington, Cambridgeshire (2 ½ miles from Meldreth) and working as a “coprolite labourer.”[16]

In 1878 Thomas married Sarah Ann Wyers, a former domestic servant from Mepal, Cambridgeshire.[17] The couple had eight children—all but one of them boys—ensuring continuation of the family name. Thomas worked as an agricultural labourer and lived the remainder of his life at Brangehill (possibly a farm), near Sutton, Cambridgeshire. His death was registered in October 1924.[18] He was 80 years old.

George Casbon (1846–1897)

George was born at Meldreth 28 November 1847 and baptized 16 March the following
year.[19] George was sent to the Royston Union workhouse, probably shortly after his mother’s death. I wrote about him recently, describing his arrest and brief imprisonment for running away and stealing clothes from the workhouse. I have found entries in the 1861 census listing for the Royston workhouse that I believe are for George and his younger brother, John. They are represented by the initials “C.G.” and “C.J.” (last initial/first initial) on the census form.[20]

Detail from 1861 England Census, Bassingbourn, Cambridgeshire, Royston Union Workhouse, showing entries for “C.G.,” age 14 and “C.J.,” age 13; in this listing, the first initial represents the surname (Ancestry.com) (Click on image to enlarge)

I believe he can be also found in the 1871 census as “George Carswell,” age 24, birthplace Meldreth, Cambridgeshire, residing in the Army barracks at Stoke Damerel,
Devonshire.[21] This suspicion is supported by the description of George’s occupation in the 1881 census as “formerly a soldier.”

George married Sarah Pearse in 1881[22] and the couple settled in Fowlmere, a small village about 3 miles from Meldreth. He was listed there as a farm labourer in 1891.[23] George and Sarah had a son and four daughters. Notably, all four of the daughters became domestic servants, one of the few options available to girls from the lower classes. One of these daughters, Hilda Mary Casbon (1887–1921), being unmarried, gave up her son, George, for adoption. George was later shipped to Canada as one of thousands of “British Home Children.”

George, the subject of this sketch, died at Fowlmere 18 October 1897 at the age of 51.[24]

John Casbon (1849–1935)

John was born at Meldreth 10 February 1849, three years before his mother’s death.[25] I believe he was also sent to the Royston Union workhouse, where he is listed as “C. J.” in the 1861 census. In the 1871 census, he is listed as an agricultural labourer at Meldreth.[26] In 1890 he married Sarah Pepper, a local woman who previously worked as a servant and cook in London.[27] John and Sarah lived on Drury Lane in Melbourn, Cambridgeshire, for their entire married lives and had no children. By 1911, his occupation was listed as “shepherd.”[28] John died in 1935[29] and Sarah in 1938.[30]

Emma Casbon (1851–1853)

Emma’s birthdate is not recorded, but her age was recorded as 2 years old when she died of “fever” at the Royston Union workhouse on 4 November 1853.[31]

Death registration of Emma Casbon, Union Workhouse Bassingbourn (Royston), 2 years old; cause of death “Fever” (Click on image to enlarge)

Her baptismal record of 13 August 1852—three days before her mother’s death—is marked “Private,” meaning the ceremony was performed somewhere besides the parish church—most likely at home.[32] Given the timing, this was probably done so that her terminally ill mother could be present at the ceremony, perhaps as a dying wish. The location of Emma’s death—the workhouse—is the most visible and poignant indication of the consequences of Elizabeth’s death. Without his wife, James, a poor labourer, no longer had the resources to care for his family. We don’t know when or how many of James’s children were admitted to the workhouse, but in Emma’s case, it was probably quite soon after Elizabeth’s death.


[1] Parish of Meldreth (Cambridgeshire, England), register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 8, no. 57; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 28 April 2017), image 201 of 699; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 5.
[2] Parish of Meldreth, register of marriages (1813–1837), p. 34, no. 100; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 29 Aug 2017), image 363; citing FHL microfilm 1,040,542, item 8.
[3] England, General Register Office (GRO), death registration (unofficial copy), Royston & Buntingford/Melbourn, 1852, no. 117; PDF copy, author’s collection.
[4] “Stretham Marriages 1558 – 1952,” PDF extract, database,  Cambridgeshire Family History Society (https://www.cfhs.org.uk/tokens/tokpub.cfm : downloaded 2 September 2017), >Casben >Stretham >Stretham Marriages 1558 – 1952, James Casben & Mary Jackson, 3 Nov 1866; citing Stretham (Cambridgeshire) parish records.
[5] “British Army, Worldwide Index 1861,” database, Findmypast (https://www.findmypast.com/transcript?id=GBM%2FSOLIDX%2F00170082 : accessed 11 Nov 2016).
[6] “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NBFC-TLQ : 6 December 2014).
[7] 1871 England census, Cambridgeshire, Bassingbourn, ED 4, p. 13 (65 stamped), schedule 60, William Lovely in the household of John Willshire; imaged at Ancestry ((https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/7619 : accessed 29 Sep 20) >Cambridgeshire >Bassingbourne >ALL >4 >images 13-4 of 26; citing The National Archives, RG 10/1361.
[8] Central Criminal Court Calendar of Prisoners in Her Majesty’s Gaol of Newgate, Third Session, Commencing Monday, 20th of September, 1869, p. 10, no. 20; imaged in “England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935,” Findmypast (https://www.findmypast.com/transcript?id=TNA/CCC/CRIM9/015/28981/3), image 171 of 236.
[9] Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 49, no. 390.
[10] Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 54, no. 430.
[11] Holy Trinity parish, Chester, Cheshire, England, p. 173, item 2; imaged as “Cheshire Diocese of Chester parish marriages 1538-1910,” Findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/search-world-records/cheshire-diocese-of-chester-parish-marriages-1538-1910).
[12] Parish of Christleton, Burials 1885, Refe. item 2,, p 15 Record group Part 1 – 1; imaged as “Cheshire Diocese Of Chester Parish Burials 1538-1911,” Findmypast (https://www.findmypast.com/transcript?id=GBPRS%2FD%2F767404785%2F1 :accessed 8 Nov 2016).
[13] Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 55, no. 437.
[14] 1861 England census, Middlesex, Westminster St. Martin in the Fields, Charing Cross, ED 10, p. 12, Matilda Casbin in the household of Lydia A. Knight; Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/8767 : accessed 1 Oct 20) >Middlesex >Westminster St Martin in the Fields >Charing Cross >District 10 >image 13 of 29.
[15] England, General Register Office, birth registration (unofficial copy), certificate no. BCA205377, Royston & Buntingford district, Melbourne sub-district, no. 230, 20 Sep 1844; author’s collection. Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 61, no. 487.
[16] 1871 England census, Cambridgeshire, Barrington, ED 2, p. 14, schedule 52; imaged as “1871 England Census,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7619 : accessed 23 Aug 20) >Cambridgeshire >Barrington >ALL >2 >image 15 of 31.
[17] “England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837–2005”, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2D5X-CWM: 13 December 2014).
[18] “England and Wales Death Registration Index 1837–2007,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVH4-9L5F : accessed 25 September 2015); Ely, 3d qtr 1924, vol. 3B/144.
[19] Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 63, no. 501.
[20] 1861 England census, Cambridgeshire, Bassingbourn, enumeration district 5, p 77(stamped), verso (6th page of Royston Union Workhouse); Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=8767 : accessed 24 April 2020) >Cambridgeshire >Bassingbourn >District 5 >image 23 of 25.
[21] 1871 England census, Devon, Stoke Damerel, St. Aubyn, Raglan barracks, p. 81 (verso), line 10; imaged as “1871 England Census,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7619 : accessed 23 Aug 2020) >Devon >Stoke Damerel >St Aubyn >Raglan Barracks >image 37 of 57.
[22] “England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2DRB-92T : accessed 26 September 2015), George Casbon, 1881; from “England & Wales Marriages, 1837-2005,” database, findmypast (http://www.findmypast.com : 2012); citing Marriage, Colchester, Essex, England, General Register Office.
[23] 1891 England census, Cambridgeshire, Fowlmere, ED 6, p. 14, schedule 86; imaged as “1891 England Census,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6598 : accessed 23 Aug 2020) >Cambridgeshire >Fowlmere >ALL >District 6 >image 15 of 20.
[24] “Deaths,” Saffron Walden (Essex) Weekly News, 22 Oct 1897, p. 8, col. 8; accessed through “British Newspaper Collection,”  findmypast (https://search.findmypast.com/ : accessed 14 September 2017).
[25] Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 68, no. 540.
[26] 1871 England census, Cambridgeshire, Meldreth, ED 15, p. 6, schedule32; ; imaged as “1871 England Census,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7619 : accessed 24 Aug 20) >Cambridgeshire >Meldreth >ALL >15 >image 7 of 32.
[27] “England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837–2005”, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2DCN-4ZD : accessed 28 Apr 20); Royston, 1st qtr, vol. 3A/352.
[28] 1911 England census, Cambridgeshire, Melbourn, ED 9, schedule 82; imaged as “1911 England Census,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=2352 : accessed 24 Aug 2020) >Hertfordshire >Melbourn >ALL >09 >image 168 of 299.
[29] England and Wales, “Search the GRO [General Register Office] Online Index,” HM Passport Office (https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/indexes_search.asp : accessed 30 Sep 20); entry for John James Casbon, age 85, 1st qtr 1935, Cambridge, vol. 3B/564.
[30] “Search the GRO [General Register Office] Online Index,” (https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/indexes_search.asp : accessed 30 Sep 20); entry for Sarah Casbon, age 88, 1st qtr 1938, Cambridgeshire, vol. 3B/553>
[31] England, death registration (unofficial copy), Dec qtr 1853, Royston & Buntingford District, vol. 3A/107, Melbourn Sub-district, no. 319; General Register Office (GRO), Southport.
[32] Parish of Meldreth, register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 75, no. 599.

William Problem, Solved!

Oh Joy! Oh Joy! It finally arrived!

“It” is the marriage certificate for William Casbon and Sarah West that I ordered in late August after writing The Two William Problem. I knew from the General Register Office (U.K.) website that the certificate was dispatched on September 10th and I’ve been eagerly awaiting its arrival ever since.

This was the treat in my mailbox yesterday!

Readers may recall that two children named William Casbon were born in Meldreth, Cambridgeshire—one to William Casbon and one to his brother James—in the 1835–­1836 time frame. One of the two married Sarah West in 1855 and can be traced in records all the way to his death in 1896; the other was lost to follow up. The question was, Which one married Sarah?

To learn the answer, I needed to expend some funds and purchase the actual marriage record of William and Sarah from the General Register Office.

Here is the certified copy of the record …

(Click on image to enlarge)

… and a more detailed view.

Copy of the marriage record of William Casbon and Sarah West, 10 November 1855, Melbourn, Cambridgeshire (Click on image to enlarge)

The certificate contains a wealth of information. Reading from the top down, we can see that the couple was married in the Baptist Chapel at Melbourn. The marriage took place on 10 November 1855; the bride and groom’s names are given and their ages are listed as 21 and 30 years, respectively. He was a bachelor and she a spinster (i.e., previously unmarried). His occupation was farm labourer and hers dressmaker. Both were residing in Meldreth at the time of the marriage.

Now for the big news: William’s father was William Casbon, farm labourer—not James. Problem solved! We also see that Sarah’s father was John West, a gardener.

Detail of the marriage certificate showing the fathers’ names and occupations (Click on image to enlarge)

Although this confirms what I believed, it contradicts what several others have listed in their online family trees, namely, that James Casbon was the father of William and father-in-law of Sarah. It’s nice (and important) to finally have proof of the correct relationship.

Aside from solving the problem of William’s parentage, the certificate contains several items of interest. The first is the fact that they were married in the local Baptist Chapel. This will not sound unusual to modern ears, but in England it was a relatively new thing in the mid-19th century for marriages to take place in so-called non-conformist denominations. The Marriage Act of 1753 required that all marriages, except those of Jews or Quakers, be performed by the Church of England. If a couple failed to wed in the Anglican Church, they had no legal rights as married people.[1] It wasn’t until 1836 that a new Marriage Act allowed couples to be married in buildings belonging to other religious groups, including Baptists.

Aside from their marriage, I have no evidence that William and Sarah were affiliated with the Baptist Church. Their children’s’ baptisms are not recorded in the Baptist church register, nor in the Meldreth (Anglican) parish register.

William and Sarah’s ages are also interesting. Based on census reports and his age at death, I estimate William’s birth year as 1835. The marriage certificate suggests that he was born in 1834. I wonder if he intentionally overstated his age on the marriage certificate. On the other hand, Sarah’s age was understated. Her baptism occurred in April 1832; therefore, she was already 33 years old when she married William.[2] It was unusual then, as it is now, for men to be so much younger than their wives.

This was not the only important difference between William and Sarah. Although not obvious from the record, they came from different social classes. As the son of a farm labourer and being one himself, William was in the lower working class. Sarah’s father was a gardener. This might not seem significant, but in fact, censuses and other civil registers show that John West was a landowner and had the rights to serve on a jury and to vote. His status was more like that of a skilled tradesman.

In the lower left-hand corner of the certificate, we see that William signed with his mark and Sarah signed her own name. This shows that he was at least partially illiterate, while she was able to read and write. Sarah’s education is confirmed by the 1841 census, where her occupation is given as “school mistress.”[3] Given that children’s education was not compulsory at the time, Sarah’s literacy is probably more unusual that William’s illiteracy and is another reflection of their different social classes.

One other difference not shown in the marriage record is that William and Sarah came from different places. William’s home was Meldreth, in southern Cambridgeshire, and Sarah grew up in Soham, Cambridgeshire, about 22 miles northwest of Meldreth and on the opposite side of Cambridge city.

Although an insignificant difference by today’s standards, the distance is outside of the norm for their time. It would have been unusual to know someone beyond about a ten-mile radius of one’s home village.

How did a farm labourer from Meldreth become acquainted with an educated woman from Soham? This is only a guess, but perhaps Sarah moved to Meldreth or Melbourn for employment purposes. Although she came from a higher social class, her father died in 1853[4] and probably left his family in a state of financial distress (supported by the fact that his widow, Sarah, was described as a “washerwoman” in the 1861 census).[5] Sarah (the daughter), an educated unmarried woman, might have found employment in Melbourn as a dressmaker or even as a governess. At the age of 33, she might have been more willing to overlook class differences in her quest for a husband. Could pregnancy have been a factor in the marriage decision? It seems unlikely, since their first child was born one year after their marriage.

Whatever the reasons, the couple had a long and fruitful marriage. They had three children, Walter (b. 1856), William (b. 1860), and Priscilla (b. 1862). They had been married more than 40 years when William died (sadly, by suicide) in 1896.[6] Sarah died on 22 December 1905 at the age of 83.[7]

I’m fortunate that my two-William problem had such an easy solution. In many cases, records do not exist or cannot be located to resolve this kind of problem.


[1] “Marriage Act 1836,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage_Act_1836 : accessed 28 Nov 20), rev. 13 Sep 20, 15:49.
[2] “England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=9841 : accessed 28 Sep 20); entry for Sarah West, 6 April 1823, Cambridge, England.
[3] 1841 England census, Cambridgeshire, Soham, ED 2, p. 5, line 14; imaged at Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/8978/ : accessed 28 Sep 20) >Cambridgeshire >Soham >ALL >District 2 >image 4 of 17; citing The National Archives, HO 107/73/14.
[4] “England, Cambridgeshire Bishop’s Transcripts, 1538-1983,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1465708 : accessed 29 Sep 20) >007676701 >image 474 of 520; Soham deaths, p. 182, no. 1449, John West, Soham, 80 yrs old, 2 Dec 1853.
[5] 1861 England census, Cambridgeshire, Soham, ED 6, p. 47, schedule 278; imaged at Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/8767 : accessed 29 Sep 20) >Cambridgeshire >Soham >ALL >District 6 >image 48 of 50; citing The National Archives RG 9/1036.
[6] “Meldreth: Sad Suicide,” Herts and Cambs (England) Reporter and Royston Crow, 13 Mar 1896, p. 5, col. 6; online image, “The British Newspaper Archive,” findmypast (http://search.findmypast.com/bna/viewarticle?id=bl%2f0001795%2f18960313%2f075 : 28 July 2017).
[7] “Holy Trinity Churchyard: Monumental Inscriptions,” Meldreth History (https://www.meldrethhistory.org.uk/topics/holy_trinity_church-2-2/churchyard/holy_trinity_churchyard_headstones : accessed 29 Sep 20).

The Two-William Problem

This post describes a situation that is all too common in genealogy research. What happens when you have two people with the same name at the same place and time? How does one connect them to the right parents, wives, and children? This is a big problem when someone is trying to trace their family tree back in time and they discover two people with the same name, either one of whom who might be their ancestor.

I’ll illustrate with two men from Meldreth, Cambridgeshire. Two brothers, William
(1806–1875) and James (~1813–1884) Casbon, both sons of Isaac Casbon (~1773–1825), each had a son named William, born within a year or so of each other.

Basic family tree showing two of Isaac Casbon’s sons and their two sons, each named William

Births were not registered in England at that time, so birth dates must be estimated from other records, such as baptisms and censuses.

Unfortunately, only one of the Williams was baptized, and the baptismal record only confuses the matter.[1]

Meldreth Parish, register of baptisms; William Casburn, 7 February 1836 (Click on image to enlarge)

As can be seen, William was baptized at Meldreth 7 February 1836. He is said to be the son of William and Elizabeth. That seems straightforward, except, there is no record of William Casbon marrying a woman named Elizabeth. His wife’s name was Mary (Cooper) and she died in July 1835.[2]

On the other hand, William’s brother James (b. about 1813) married Elizabeth Waller, who was still alive in 1836.

So, there is a problem with the baptismal record. The name of either the father or mother is wrong. Maybe the vicar or curate was tired and wrote one the names incorrectly. My guess is that he inadvertently replaced the father’s name with that of the child. If so, the baptism applies to the son of James and Elizabeth, but there is no way to know for sure.

But this is only the beginning of our two-William problem. First, how do we even know that both brothers had sons named William? The answer lies in census records. Both Williams appear with their respective families in the 1841 and 1851 censuses. Here are their entries in 1851.[3]

1851 England census, Meldreth, Cambridgeshire, entry for William Casbon and his family (Click on image
to enlarge)
1851 England census, Melbourn, Cambridgeshire, entry for James Casbon and his family (Click on image
to enlarge)

We can see in the upper record that William the father, whose age is incorrectly stated as 40, is a widower and lives with his daughter Elizabeth, age 19, and son William, age 16. This gives us an approximate birth year for William, the son, of 1835. This is consistent with the year his mother died. We can also see in the lower record that James’s family includes his son William, age 15, which gives him a birth year of about 1836.

As we’ve already seen with William the father, ages reported in censuses are frequently incorrect. However, this is less likely to occur with children, and the ages of the two sons in the 1841 census are consistent with the same birth years. So, it is likely that William, the son of William, is about one year older than the son of James.

Unfortunately, the situation becomes unclear from this point forward. We know that a man named William Casbon married Sarah West in 1855.[4] The marriage was registered at Royston, Hertfordshire, a few miles from Meldreth. I only have an index entry of the marriage. This does not include details such as date, location, names and occupations of each party’s father, or names of witnesses. Therefore, I don’t know whose son married Sarah West.

After 1855, I have a complete set of censuses from 1861 through 1891 for William and Sarah. William died at Meldreth 7 March 1896 and Sarah died 22 December 1905.[5]

The grave monument of William and Sarah Casbon, Meldreth, Holy Trinity Church (incidentally, this is the only Casbon monument that remains in the Meldreth churchyard) (Click on image to enlarge)

The inscription reads as follows:

In/ Memory of/ WILLIAM CASBON/who died March 7th 1896/ aged 61 years/
“We hope to meet again at/ The Resurrection of the just/ A light is from the household gone/
A voice we loved is stilled/ A place is vacant in our home/ Which never can be filled”./
Also of / SARAH, wife of the above/ who departed this life/ December 22nd 1905/
aged 83 years./ She hath done what she could/ Her end was peace.

William’s given age of 61 suggests that he was born sometime between March 1834 and March 1835, which would be consistent with him being the son of William (b. 1806). However, this is hardly sufficient to be considered proof.

Of the second William, there is no certain record after the census of 1851. There are no additional census records, no marriage record, and no death or burial records. I have found a couple sources which might refer to him—I will refer to them in a future post—but they provide no clues as to his parentage.

So, we have two Williams, born in about 1835 and 1836. One was married and had a family; we don’t know what happened to the other. One was the son of William (b. 1806) and one was the son of James (b. about 1813), but we don’t know which William was which. This is a problem for the living descendants of William and Sarah West, who can’t determine whether they are descended from William or James.

There are several family trees on Ancestry that list James Casbon as the father of William and father-in-law of Sarah. These do not contain any supporting information or justification for the choice. My own bias is that William (b. 1806) is more likely to be the father of the William who married Sarah West.

Fortunately, there is a potential solution to this problem. I referred above to the marriage record of William and Sarah. The official marriage certificate is supposed to give the names of the bride’s and groom’s fathers. As of this writing, I have ordered a copy of the marriage certificate from the General Register Office in England. When it arrives, I will hopefully have a definitive answer. I will provide an update when I receive the certificate.

Do you have any two-(insert any name) problems in your family tree?


[1] Parish of Meldreth (Cambridgeshire, England), register of baptisms (1813–1867), p. 40, no. 360; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/210742 : accessed 27 Aug 20) >Film #007567609 >image 219 of 699.
[2] Parish of Meldreth, register of burials (1813–1875), p. 29, no. 232, Mary Carsbon, 28 Jul 1835; accessed as “Parish registers for Meldreth, 1681-1877,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/210742 : accessed 27 Aug 20) >Film #007567609 >image 457 of 699.
[3] 1851 England census, Cambrideshire, Meldreth, ED 5b, p. 7, schedule 28; imaged as “1851 England Census,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/8860 : accessed 27 Aug 20) >Cambridgeshire >Meldreth >ALL >5a >image 8 of 25. 1851 England census, Cambrideshire, Melbourn (“Melbourn in Meldreth”), ED 11c, p. 32, schedule 126; imaged as “1851 England Census,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/8860 : accessed 27 Aug 20) >Cambridgeshire >Melbourn >ALL >11c >image33 of 36.
[4] “England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2DQ3-WY3 : accessed 23 September 2015).
[5] Kathryn Betts, “Holy Trinity Church, Meldreth: Monumental Inscriptions,” PDF download, Meldreth History (http://www.meldrethhistory.org.uk/page/holy_trinity_churchyard_monumental_inscriptions?path=0p2p120p53p95p94p : accessed 27 August 2020); entry for William and Sarah Casbon, item 27, unnumbered page 8 of 23.

The Casbon Family Reunion, October 1901, Valparaiso, Indiana

Casbon family reunion 24 October 1901; author’s collection (Please! Click on image to enlarge and see names)

I’ve had this photograph for so long that I don’t remember where or who it came from. I believe I was given a copy sometime in the 1990s when I was just starting my genealogy research. Many of today’s Casbons have seen a version of the photo because it serves as the cover image for the “Casbon Family” Facebook group. Although I’ve used it in a previous post and in my book, I have never written about the photograph in detail or given it the attention that it deserves.

The picture is a treasure. A lot of old photos don’t have names of the subjects written in. I was very lucky that my version of the photo came with a separate “key” that provided all the names. I used the key to add labels to the original photograph. It’s always nice to be able to put a face to a name, but how often can you put 36 faces to 36 names?

This is the only photograph I know of that shows all of Thomas Casbon’s (1803–1888) living children—Sylvester, Charles, Jesse, and Emma—together. Mary Ann, the oldest daughter, passed away in 1890. All of them, except for Emma, were born in England. Likewise, Amos, the son of Thomas’s brother James (~1813–1884), was born in England.

The picture gives us a glimpse into how people lived at the turn of the twentieth century. We can see how they dressed and what a typical house in the Midwest looked like. We can even see that bicycles haven’t changed that much in 120 years! (Woodie Marrell looks pretty proud of his bicycle!)

I’m especially lucky because the event captured in the photograph was reported in the local newspaper.

Photocopy of an article from The (Valparaiso, Indiana) Messenger, 31 October 1901; courtesy of Ilaine Church
(I think)

The Casbon family had a reunion at the home of Hida Church in this city Thursday. A sumptuous dinner and a pleasant social time marked the affair. The guests were: Sylvester Casbon and family; Charles Casbon and family; Jesse Casbon and family; Mrs. M. [Emma] Rigg, of Iowa; Lawrence Casbon and family, of South Bend; John Sands [Sams] and family, of Boone Grove; Lawrence Casbon and family, of Boone Grove; John [Thomas] Casbon, of Deep River; Charles Casbon, Jr. [son of Sylvester, therefore not Charles junior], of Valparaiso; Myron Dayton and wife; Mrs. Mary Casbon [widow of James] and John Merrill and family.

The attendees of the reunion included most of the living descendants of Thomas and James Casbon, who emigrated to the United States with their families in 1846 and 1870, respectively. To me, the photograph is a testimony to the brothers’ determination and a visual confirmation of the family’s growth and prosperity since coming to America.

I’ve created a diagram showing how most of the attendees were related. It is color coded by generation. Attendees are indicated by bold-face type. Several deceased individuals, including Thomas and James, as well as former wives, are listed in the diagram in order to make the lines of descent clear. Their names are printed in italics.

A diagram showing those descendants of Thomas and James Casbon who attended the October 1901 reunion (Click on image to enlarge)

Also included in the photograph but not the descendants of Thomas or James Casbon are Woodie (or Woody) and Susie Marrell, the children of John Marrell, who is mentioned in the news article, the brother of Mary Marrell Casbon.

There are also several notable absences from the photograph. George W. Casbon, Sylvester’s youngest son, who was raised by his aunt Emma (Casbon) and uncle Robert N. Rigg, was living in Iowa. Note that Emma was present at the reunion. Charles Parkfield Casbon’s wife, Julia (Bidwell), is not in the photo, even though the news article says that Charles “Jr.” was there with his family. Julia would have been almost eight months pregnant with their first child, Herman, at the time. Three of Jesse Casbon’s daughters—Anna, Edna, and Lillian—were not there. Anna was married and living in Wisconsin; I don’t know why the other two were absent. Finally, Amos Casbon’s two sisters, Margaret (“Maggie”) and Alice, were not there. Maggie was married and living nearby but was possibly estranged from the others. Alice was also married and living nearby.

The reunion was held at the home of “Hida”—Thomas Hiram Church, Jr.—and his wife, Lodema (Casbon). The 1900 census tells us that Hida and Lodema lived at 5 East Elm Street in Valparaiso.[1] The streets were later renumbered, and this house can now be seen at 105 Elm Street.

The house at 105 Elm Street, Valparaiso, Indiana; courtesy of Ilaine Church (Click on image to enlarge)

Aside from no longer having a covered front porch, the facade of the house has changed little since 1901.

As separate branches of the family grew and dispersed, the tradition of reunions dwindled. However, since both Sylvester and Amos married Aylesworth girls, their descendants continued to attend the annual Aylesworth reunions in Porter County, Indiana. My father remembers attending these. These reunions still occur the first weekend in August every year (except this one, thanks to COVID-19). In recent years, Casbon reunions were started up again, hosted by the late Michael J. Casbon. I was fortunate to attend the most recent one of these in 2017.


[1] 1900 U.S. Census, Porter County, Indiana, ED 81, sheet 9A; imaged as “”United States Census, 1900,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6QNS-WRP?i=16 : accessed 12 Apr 2017) >Indiana >Porter >ED 81 Center Township Valparaiso city Ward 1 >image 17 of 31; citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 398.

Occupations

The 19th century was a time of tremendous social and economic change in England. The industrial revolution and growth of the railroads created economic growth, new job opportunities, and shifted segments of the population from their traditional rural homelands to the cities.

How did this affect our English Casbon ancestors? We can gain some insight through the review of census data. Beginning in 1841, roughly the beginning of the Victoria era, census reports listed the place of residence and occupations of household members. When combined with genealogical data, these reports can provide insight into how the changes of the 19th century affected multiple generations of family members.   

Hence, today’s post is a bit of a “science project.” I have compiled the occupations and locations of Casbon family members from 1841 through 1891. These are separated into family groups which are further subdivided by generation.

In the early 1800s, there were two main family groups with the Casbon surname or its antecedents (such as Casbel, Casburn, etc.). One of these families arose in Littleport, Cambridgeshire, but over the course of a generation became based in Peterborough, Northamptonshire (now Cambridgeshire). I refer to these as the Peterborough Casbons. Their common ancestor was Thomas Casbon, born about 1776 in Littleport and died near St. Ives, Huntingdonshire in 1855.

The second group arose in the rural area south of Cambridge and became associated with the village of Meldreth. This family group was larger than the Peterborough Casbons and all were descended from Thomas Casbon, who was born at Meldreth in 1743 and died there in 1799. I have divided the Meldreth group into three subgroups, corresponding to the offspring of three of James’s sons. The first-generation members of each of these subgroups were first cousins to those in the other two groups.

A third family group named Casbon sprung up in Chatteris, Cambridgeshire in the mid-1800s. They were descended from John Casburn, who was born about 1818 and died in 1848 (but does not appear in the 1841 census). This family group lived predominantly in Chatteris throughout the 19th century and eventually died out in the mid 20th century due to the lack of male heirs. Because John’s children were born in the 1840s, their occupations were first listed in the 1871 census.

I have not been able to connect any of these three major family groups together through genealogy records.

For this project, I created a spreadsheet for each group or subgroup showing those family members whose occupations were recorded in the 1841–1891 censuses. The family members are separated by generation; their occupations and places of residence are listed by census year. Thus, it is possible to see how a given individual’s place of residence and occupation changed over subsequent census years. A brief analysis and commentary follow each spreadsheet.

Peterborough Group

(Click on image to enlarge) Extracted census data for four generations of Peterborough Casbons; direct descendants are listed underneath their parents in the next generation; a wife, Jane (Cooper), is listed underneath her husband; occupations are listed as found in the census; some additional information is listed to explain why census data is not given

What is most apparent in this group is the strong family tradition of gardening and related occupations across all four generations. The only exceptions to this tradition in the males are John Casbon (1863), who was listed as a grocer in 1891, and Charles Casbon (1866—see below).

The term “gardener” is a bit ambiguous in the census listings. In one sense, a gardener might be little more than a servant or labourer [British spelling intentional], employed by a landowner to tend his grounds. However, the term was also applied to self-employed men who ran commercial nurseries and sold bedding plants, trees, and shrubs to others. There is abundant evidence that Thomas (1807) and his descendants were the latter kind of gardener, but it is unknown how the term applied to Thomas (1776).

Of the women, two Sarahs (1834 and 1865), worked as domestic servants before getting married. Elizabeth (1861) worked as a dressmaker in 1881, but we know from other sources that she later served as a domestic servant.

Emily (Cantrill—1846) and her son Charles Casbon (1866) deserve special mention. Emily was either divorced or separated from her husband, Thomas, and moved to her parents’ home in London, along with their two children. I haven’t been able to find a description of her occupation, “hair draper,” but I suspect it is another term for hair stylist. Her move to London probably opened the door for her son, Charles, to have such a unique occupation—“Photographic Artist”—compared to the other men in this group.

Meldreth Group 1

(Click on image to enlarge) Extracted census data for three generations of Meldreth Group 1

Jane (1803) and William (1805) were both children of John and Martha (Wagstaff) Casbon. Jane was “crippled from birth” (1871 census) and listed as a “straw plaiter” in the 1851 census. William was an agricultural labourer for his entire life. His three sons left Meldreth, with two settling in parts of London and one settling a little further south in Croydon. John (1843) had a criminal record and worked as a labourer of one sort or another his entire life. I’m assuming that his occupation of gardener in 1881 refers to the working-class meaning of the term.

William’s sons Reuben (1847) and Samuel (1851) both spent some time working for railways. Their occupations reflect the diversity of jobs in urban locations compared what would have been available Meldreth. Although still members of the working class, Reuben and Samuel were probably able to maintain a higher standard of living than their father. Note Samuel’s first occupation as a coprolite digger. This reflects a short-term economic “boom” when coprolite was mined for fertilizer in the area surrounding Meldreth.

William’s female descendants all entered into various forms of domestic service, probably the most common employment for girls from working class families.

Meldreth Group 2

(Click on image to enlarge) Extracted census data for three generations of Meldreth Group 2

James (1806) was the son of James and Mary (Howse or Howes) Casbon. In some records he is referred to as James Howse or James Itchcock Casbon. He was born and raised in Meldreth. Unlike the other Meldreth families, he was a landowner. This put him in a higher social class than the other Meldreth Casbons and allowed him to serve on juries, and possibly to vote.

For reasons unknown to me (unless it was tied to his bankruptcy), James moved from Meldreth to Barley, Hertfordshire, a distance of about five miles, sometime between 1851 and 1854. His oldest son, Alfred Hitch (1828), became a tailor, as did Alfred’s two sons. It’s interesting that they were located in different cities for every census. James’s son John (1835) followed him in the farming and carrier tradition, while his son George (1836) became established in Barley as a wheelwright.

Two of his female descendants, Margaret (1873) and Julia (1866), became domestic servants. Two other female descendants, daughter Fanny (1846) and granddaughter Lavinia (1870) broke the domestic service tradition, with Fanny becoming the “superintendent” (perhaps housemistress) of a large apartment complex and Lavinia becoming a bookseller. Both later moved to Folkestone, where Fanny became the owner of a boarding house/vacation hotel [link]). Charlotte (Haines), the wife of Alfred H. (1828), must have supplemented the family income with her occupation as a straw bonnet cleaner.

Meldreth Group 3

(Click on image to enlarge) Extracted census data for three generations of Meldreth Group 3

This is my own ancestral group, consisting of three brothers, Thomas (1803), William (1806), and James (1813). A fourth brother, Joseph (born about 1811), died without male heirs. Thomas emigrated to the United States in 1846, so is only captured in the 1841 census as an agricultural labourer.

His brother William (1806) and William’s son William (1835) worked in Meldreth as agricultural labourers their entire lives, except that William junior seems to have “moved up” as a market gardener in 1891. William’s (1806) two grandsons left Meldreth. Walter (1856) eventually became a railway wagon examiner and William (1860) lived in various places with diverse jobs. Although listed as a baker in 1891, he later became the Superintendent of Catering for the House of Lords. William’s (1806) granddaughter, Priscilla (1862), was a domestic servant in 1881 and was living in Meldreth with no occupation listed in 1891.

James (1813) and his descendants in England were never able to rise above the class of (mostly agricultural) labourers, although George (1846), and possibly William (1836), served time as soldiers. Like his brother Thomas, James (1813) emigrated to the United States in 1870, leaving his adult children behind.

Chatteris Group

(Click on image to enlarge) Extracted census data for two generations of Chatteris Casbons

The two brothers in this group, Lester (1841) and John (1846), were agricultural labourers. Unusually, John’s daughter Rose (1868) was also listed as an agricultural labourer. The other two daughters, Lizzie (1872) and Harriet (1874) followed the traditional route for working-class women as domestic servants. Only Charles (1873) seems to have advanced a little in social standing as a saddler. The most unique occupation in this group was Sarah “Kate” (1844) who was listed as a “gay girl,” i.e., a prostitute.

General Observations

I have consolidated the occupational data for all of these family groups into a single chart.

(Click on image to enlarge) Consolidated occupational data from the 1841–1891 censuses for the Casbon family groups

During the study period four generations of the Peterborough group, three generations of the Meldreth subgroups, and two generations of the Chatteris group—a total of 55 individuals—had occupations recorded on the 1841–1891 censuses.

In general, there was very little upward social mobility. Descendants of working-class families tended to continue in working-class occupations, although in different categories (agriculture/industry/transportation for men and domestic service for women) and different locations. The Peterborough group and Meldreth Group 2 started out in a higher social class as gardeners and farmers (i.e., land owners), but their descendants tended to stay in about the same social class as tradesmen (tailor, wheelwright, grocer) of different kinds.

This lack of upward mobility is probably a reflection of the rigid class structure that persisted in England throughout the 19th and into the early 20th century. I’m a little surprised that more of the working-class descendants weren’t able to move up to what I would call lower-middle class occupations.

That said, the later generations were probably better off economically and materially than their predecessors. Overall, the economy improved throughout the century. Food was probably more plentiful, and furnishings less primitive compared to the lives of agricultural labourers in the early 19th century.

The growth of transportation and urbanization created new job opportunities and drove later generations into the cities. By 1891 there is a much greater diversity in occupations, especially for the men. This trend was most pronounced for the Meldreth group, many of whom ended up in or near London. As they migrated to the cities, their numbers dwindled in the home village. By 1891, only two households—William (1835) and John (1849)—were recorded in Meldreth or it’s sister village or Melbourn.

For working-class women, domestic service was one of the few sources of employment. Girls usually began working “in service” in their teens and continued until they were married. A few never married and continued in service their entire working lives. Even the daughters of a farmer/landowner and a tradesman, Margaret (1873) and Julia (1866), respectively, found employment in domestic service. There were three notable exceptions: Fanny (1846), Lavinia (1870), and Sarah “Kate” (1844). The first two of these became financially independent, while Kate’s fate is unknown.

It would be interesting to compare the occupations of the 19th century with those of the 20th. Many of the social barriers were greatly reduced or broken down altogether. The two world wars created tremendous social and economic disruptions. I’m certain we would see a great deal more diversity and upward mobility in occupations for men and women. Unfortunately, census data is only available for 1901 through 1921 in England, along with a census-like instrument known as the 1939 register. Such a study will have to wait, for now.

Alice Hannah Casbon (1871–1950)

Alice Hannah Casbon was the last child born to James (~1813–1884) and Mary (Jackson, ~1833–187_?) Casbon. There is a family tradition that Alice was born at sea while the family was making the crossing from Liverpool to New York aboard the ship Great Western. Although there is no evidence to support the claim, it is easy to see how the story came about. The Great Western arrived at New York on Christmas Day, 1870.[1] Alice does not appear on the ship’s passenger manifest. Her birth date is recorded as 25 January 1871, just one month after the family’s arrival in New York.[2] Thus, if the family had sailed one month later, or if her mother had gone into premature labor, Alice would have been born at sea!

Imagine how uncomfortable the voyage in the steerage of a sailing vessel must have been for Alice’s mother, being so far advanced in her pregnancy.

Despite the family tradition, all the available evidence supports the birth date given above. There is no official birth certificate, as these were not required at the time. However, every available census gives her birthplace as Indiana; and the 1900 census gives the month and year as January 1871.[3] The date of 25 January 1871 is recorded on her death certificate and in her obituary.[4]

Nothing is known of Alice’s childhood, but we can conclude that it would not have been easy. Alice was no more than 5 years old, and possibly much younger, when her mother died. James remarried in 1876 and died in 1884, when Alice was 13. Whatever was left of her childhood was spent with her stepmother, Mary (Payne). Unfortunately, there are no documents that I know of that describe this period of her life.

According to the 1940 U.S. census, Alice’s highest level of education was the fourth grade.[5] Although this was common for girls at the time, it seems likely that Alice went to work at an early age, either at the home or elsewhere, given what we know about her circumstances.

On 24 January 1891, a day before her twentieth birthday, Alice married a two-time widower named Benjamin Edwards.[6] He was 20 years older than Alice and, according to his obituary, had 13 children from his first marriage.[7] At least five of these children were 10 years old or younger, so Alice was immediately placed into the role of stepmother.

The couple had another eight children together: Elsie, born 1892, Grace (1894), Bertha (1895), Mary Alice (1897), Howard (1899), Pearl (1901), Hazel (1903), and Florence (1906). All except Pearl, a son, survived into adulthood.

Detail from an Edwards family photo (undated); left to right, back row: Elsie, Grace, Benjamin, Alice (Casbon), Bertha, Hazel; front row: Howard, Florence, and unidentified; courtesy of Ron Casbon (Click on image to enlarge)

In the 1900 census, Ben, Alice, and their family were residing in Porter Township, Porter County, Indiana.[8] In 1910 and 1920, they were living in Union Township, Porter County.[9] By 1930, Ben, now retired, and Alice lived at 960 West Street in Valparaiso, the Porter County seat.[10] This house is still standing.

Benjamin Edwards died in 1934 at the age of 83.[11] Two years later, Alice married Charles Hicks, a roofing contractor and former city councilman.[12] This marriage was short-lived due to Charles’s premature death following a traffic accident. The story received extensive coverage in the Valparaiso Vidette-Messenger. Both Charles and Alice suffered fractured knee caps along with cuts and bruises, as a result of a head-on collision on 4 February 1938. They were both hospitalized at Fairview hospital in LaPorte, Indiana, “where it was stated their condition is not critical.”[13] On 25 February it was reported that both had undergone surgery for the fractured kneecaps. “Mrs. Hicks is recovering nicely, but Mr. Hicks’ condition is not so good.”[14] Two days later, Charles was dead.[15]

In her later years, Alice seems to have divided her time between at least two of her daughters. In the 1940 census, she was staying with her daughter Grace and her husband, Jay Blachly, in Valparaiso.[16] In early 1948 she was said to be residing with her daughter Hazel and her husband, Arthur Simpson, in Three Oaks, Michigan.[17] However, in July of that year, she was again residing with Grace, when she had a heart attack and was said to be making a “rapid recovery.”[18] She was once again living with Hazel in Michigan when she passed away 15 March 1950 from “a lingering illness.”[19] The nature of her illness is unknown to me. Alice was 79 years old when she died.

Undated photo of Alice in her later years; courtesy of Ron Casbon

One of Alice’s daughters is said to have done a great deal of Casbon genealogy research. I have copies of some of these records, but they came to me indirectly and I don’t know who the daughter was.


[1] “Marine Intelligence,” The New York Times, 26 Dec 1870, p. 8, col. 5; online images (https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1870/12/26/issue.html : accessed 17 January 2017).
[2] “Michigan Death Certificates, 1921-1952,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KF41-L5D : accessed 21 February 2017); citing Three Oaks, Berrien, Michigan, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics, Lansing; FHL microfilm 1,973,189.
[3] 1900 U.S. census, Porter County, Indiana, Porter Township, ED 91, sheet 4B, dwelling & family 75 (Benjamin Edwards); imaged as “United States Census, 1900,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6QNS-7WT?i=7 : accessed 20 Jan 2015) >Indiana > Porter > ED 91 Porter Township > image 8 of 22; citing NARA microfilm publication T623.
[4] “Michigan Death Certificates, 1921-1952.” “Mrs Alice Hicks Dies Following Lingering Illness,” The (Valparaiso, Indiana) Vidette-Messenger, 16 Mar 1950, p. 6; image copy, Newspaper Archive (accessed through participating libraries: 16 Aug 2016).
[5] 1940 U.S. census, Porter County, Indiana, Valparaiso, Ward 3, ED 64-6, sheet 4-B, family 89 (Blachley—transcribed as “Blackley”—Jay); imaged as “United States Census, 1940,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QSQ-G9MB-N9LX?i=7&cc=2000219 : accessed 6 July 2017); citing NARA digital publication T627.
[6] Porter County, Indiana, marriage records, vol. 9 (1889–1892), no. 282; imaged as “Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1410397 : accessed 22 Mar 2019) > >Porter >1889-1892 Volume 9 >image 179 of 361; citing Indiana Commission on Public Records, Indianapolis.
[7] “Benj. Edwards, Local Pioneer, Death Victim,” The Vidette-Messenger, 19 Mar 1934, p. 4, col. 4; online image, Newspaper Archive (accessed 15 April 2018).
[8] 1900 U.S. census, Porter County, Indiana, ED 91, Sheet 4B.
[9] 1910 U.S. census, Porter County, Indiana, ED 150, sheet 8A, dwelling 151, family 153; imaged as “United States Census, 1910,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GRJJ-FWS?i=14 : accessed 29 Oct 2015); citing NARA microfilm publication T624. 1920 U.S. census, Porter County, Indiana, ED 154, sheet 9B, dwelling 187, family 197; “United States Census, 1920,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GR67-31W?i=18 : accessed 14 Dec 2015); citing NARA microfilm publication T625.
[10] 1930 U.S. census, Porter County, Center Township, ED 64-7, sheet 7B; imaged as “United States Census, 1930,” FamilySearch images, (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GRH7-J26?i=13 : accessed 23 Mar 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication T626.
[11] “Benj. Edwards, Local Pioneer, Death Victim,” The Vidette-Messenger.
[12] “Indiana, Marriage Index, 1800-1941”, database, (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=5059 : accessed 23 Mar 2019), Charles Hicks & Alice Edwards, 4 Mar 1936; citing Starke County, Indiana, Index to Marriage Record 1896 – 1938, Inc. Letters, W. P. A.; original Record Located: County Clerk’s O; Book: H-21; Page: 20.
[13] “Charles Hicks and Wife Hurt in Auto Crash,” The Vidette-Messenger, 4 Feb 1938, p. 1, col. 7; Newspaper Archive (accessed 23 Mar 2019).
[14] “Condition of Charles Hicks Not Favorable,” The Vidette-Messenger, 25 February 1938, p. 1, col. 6; image copy, Newspaper Archive (accessed 23 March 2019).
[15] “C.S. Hicks Fails to Survive Crash Injuries,” The Vidette-Messenger, 28 Feb 1938, pp. 1-2; Newspaper Archive (accessed 23 March 2019).
[16] 1940 U.S. census, Porter County, Indiana, Valparaiso, Ward 3, ED 64-6, sheet 4-B.
[17] “Local Brevities,” The Vidette-Messenger, 3 Apr 1948, p. 2, col. 1; Newspaper Archive (accessed 12 Jul 2020).
[18] “Local Brevities,” The Vidette-Messenger, 13 Jul 1948, p. 2, col. 1; Newspaper Archive (accessed 12 Jul 2020).
[19] “Mrs Alice Hicks Dies Following Lingering Illness,” The Vidette-Messenger, 16 Mar 1950, p. 6; image copy, Newspaper Archive (accessed 16 Aug 2016).

Pilgrim

Here’s a research tip: when viewing images of records online, always check to see if there are more pages than the one you are viewing.

Case in point: Here is the top of a page from the passenger list of the steam ship Celtic, which arrived at Boston, Massachusetts on 10 June 1928, after departing from Liverpool, England on 2 June (you’ll need to enlarge the image to see the details).[1]

Detail from passenger list of the steam ship Celtic, list E, 1st page (National Archives and Records Administration) (Click on image to enlarge)

The person of interest is passenger number four, Margaret Fanny Casbon. We can see that she is 52 years old, her occupation is “domestic,” she can read and write in English, she is a subject of Great Britain, was born and resides at Royston, England, and was granted a visa on 25 May. We can also see that the list appears to be alphabetical, and is labeled as list “E”; therefore, it is probably part of a much longer document. All in all, it contains a great deal of information and looks like it might be a complete record for Margaret Fanny Casbon …until you look at the next image.[2]

Detail from passenger list of the steam ship Celtic, list E, 2nd page (National Archives and Records Administration) (Click on image to enlarge)

Now we can see that there are another 21 numbered columns pertaining to the passengers listed on the first image. Among other things, we learn that Margaret has a brother, John Marcus Casbon, who lives in Barley, England, and that this is her first trip to the United States. She is part of a group participating in a “Congregational Pilgrimage, Boston,” and will be in the U.S. for one week. Finally, after learning that she is not a polygamist or anarchist, is in good health and has no deformity, we can see that she is 5 feet 4 inches tall, has a “fresh” complexion, brown hair and grey eyes.

Her name, age, and relation to John Marcus Casbon all confirm that she is the daughter of John (~1835–1908) and Mary (Simmance, ~1837–1906) Casbon and the granddaughter of James (1806–1871) and Susanna (Sanders, ~1806–1850) Casbon, about whom I have written previously. Her common ancestor with my branch of the family is her second great-grandfather Thomas Casbon (~1743–1799). That makes us third cousins, several times removed. Not the closest of relations!

Sometime in the early 1850s, Margaret’s grandfather James migrated about five miles south from Meldreth, Cambridgeshire—the village where he was born and raised—to Barley, Hertfordshire. His son John continued in his father’s footsteps as both a farmer and carrier, i.e., a freight hauler. John’s brother, George, established himself in Barley as a wheelwright. These occupations placed them in a higher social class than my direct ancestors, who were agricultural laborers—essentially landless peasants. Barley was quite a small village, so the two brothers were probably well known there.  

Despite her family’s standing, we find Margaret working as a housemaid in London on the 1891 census.[3] I suppose she worked in domestic service for much of her life, given that her occupation on the 1928 passenger list is recorded as “domestic.”

Returning to the passenger list, what caught my attention was the fact that all the passengers listed on the page were participating in the Congregational Pilgrimage at Boston. In fact, only 7 of the 1,212 passengers on the Celtic were not part of the pilgrimage. Apparently, the ship was chartered to support this event.

It’s not surprising then, that the arrival of the ship was a newsworthy event, as can be seen from this clipping from the Boston Globe.[4]

(Newspapers.com)

The Globe reported that this was “the largest party of foreign visitors ever to land in this country from one vessel.”[5]

The visit has been arranged with special reference to the fact that the Pilgrims, in 1620, founded the first Congregational Church in America, and the visiting Congregationalists are intensely interested in seeing the place where the Pilgrims landed. They have styled themselves “the Twentieth Century Pilgrims,” and have declared the purpose of the trip to be that of “strengthening the bonds of fellowship between American and British Congregationalists, and through them, between the two great Nations which hold their loyalty and devotion.”[6]

Another newspaper made these observations:

There is little resemblance between the modern pilgrimage and the trip of the first Pilgrims to America. Gin and brandy were a part of the Mayflower’s cargo, and beer was the daily “washer down” of the “bacon, hard tack, salt beef smoked herring and cheese” which was the fare of the mariners en route to the land of plenty, but all alcoholic beverages have been tabooed by the congregational pilgrimage, in deference to the American prohibition laws and their own temperance ideas. Moreover, excellent cooks will provide viands beyond the skill of the pilgrim mother, with her simple “frying pan and kettle heated over a fire on a box of sand.”[7]

The itinerary included visits to Plymouth, Lexington, and Concord, followed by a trip to New York, from whence they departed again aboard the Celtic for England.[8] This must have been the trip of a lifetime for Margaret!

I was curious to find out more about Congregationalism and Margaret’s role in the Congregational church.

I won’t go into details here, but the roots of Congregationalism go back to Henry VIII and the founding of the Church of England. The early dissenters felt that the Church of England was still too close in organization and form to the Roman Catholic church. The early Congregationalists were known as Independents “who believed each church should be a gathering of believers joined together under a covenant agreement, and with the power to choose their own minister.”[9] Congregationalists were similar to Baptists in their beliefs; however, unlike the Baptists, the Congregationalists practiced infant baptism.

The Pilgrims who traveled to America in the Mayflower were an offshoot of this movement who sought to establish a “pure” church outside of the control of the Church of England. They were later joined by Puritans who fled England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The reform movements in England and America gradually took on more of a denominational form and churches became known as Congregational churches.

In 1841, an Independent chapel was built in Barley, Margaret’s hometown. This seems to have been occupied by the Baptists for many years but was turned over to the Congregationalists in 1889.[10]

The (former) Congregational Church in Barley; photo courtesy of Andrew Wood, Hertfordshire Churches in Photographs (https://hertfordshirechurches.wordpress.com/); used with permission.
Detail from U.K., Ordnance Survey, Hertfordshire V.SW (includes: Barkway; Barley; Reed; Royston.), six-inch series, revised: 1896, published: 1899; accessed at National Library of Scotland Map Images (https://maps.nls.uk/ : accessed 4 Jun 2020); The Congregational Chapel is circled; used with permission under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC-BY-NC-SA) license (Click on image to enlarge)

Margaret was apparently a well-known member of the congregation. A history of the Congregational Church in Great Chishill, Hertfordshire (which merged with the Barley congregation in 1994) reports that “Miss Margaret Casbon and her brother John were good supporters of the Chapel, gave generously and attended regularly.”[11]

There are very few records available to tell us what happened to Margaret later in life. She appears in the 1939 England and Wales Register (a census-like survey taken prior to World War II) living in the family home, known as “Mount House.” Her occupation was given as “housekeeper.”[12] By then both of her siblings, Florence Marian (Casbon) Smith (1864–1926) and John Marcus Casbon (1875–1936) were deceased. With Margaret’s death on
30 December 1956,[13] the line of her father’s descendants ended, as neither she nor her brother ever married, and their sister Florence had no children.


[1] “Massachusetts, Boston Passenger Lists, 1891-1943,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1923995 : accessed 2 Jun 2020) >336 – v. 514 Jun 1, 1928 – Jun 14, 1928 >image 235 of 410; citing NARA microfilm publication T843.
[2] “Massachusetts, Boston Passenger Lists, 1891-1943,” >336 – v. 514 Jun 1, 1928 – Jun 14, 1928 >image 236 of 410.
[3] 1891 England census, London, Streatham, ED 5, p. 30, schedule 192 (corrected from 191), line 13, household of Albert (illegible) Turnham; imaged as “1891 England Census,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=6598 : accessed 2 Jun 2020) >London >Streatham >District 05 >image 55 of 61; citing The National Archives, RG 12, piece  454, folio 140.
[4] Boston Globe, 11 Jun 1928, p. 2; imaged at Newspapers.com (accessed 27 May 2020).
[5] Boston Globe, 11 Jun 1928, p. 2.
[6] Boston Globe, 11 Jun 1928, p. 2.
[7] “Modern Pilgrims to Visit America,” North Adams Evening Transcript, 18 May 1928, p. 10; imaged at Newspaper Archive (accessed through participating libraries: 27 May 2020).
[8] Boston Globe, 11 Jun 1928, p. 2. “North Adams Will Aid in Pilgrimage,” North Adams Evening Transcript, 19 May 1928, p. 5, col. 2; imaged at Newspaper Archive (accessed through participating libraries: 27 May 2020).
[9] “The Congregational Christian Tradition,” Congregational Library & Archives (http://www.congregationallibrary.org/researchers/congregational-christian-tradition#congregationalists : accessed 4 Jun 2020).
[10] “Barley Chapel, 19th/20th Century,” Genealogy in Hertfordshire (http://www.hertfordshire-genealogy.co.uk/data/answers/answers-2008/ans8-040-barley-chapel.htm : accessed 4 Jun 2020).
[11] Rev. Reginald Rooke, His Candlestick and a Light Among Them, Chapter 23, “Everyday Life in Barley Chapel”; reproduced as PDF files at “Great Chishill Congregational Church 1694-1954: A Brief History Of Its 260 Years Of Christian Witness,” Great & Little Chishill (http://www.greatchishill.org.uk/subpages/urc.html : accessed 4 Jun 2020).
[12] 1939 England and Wales Register, Hertfordshire, Hitchin, ED DFIJ, RD 135-2, schedule 115; imaged as “1939 England and Wales Register,” Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=61596 : accessed 27 May 2020) >Hertfordshire >Hitchin RD >DFIJ >image 10 of 16; citing The National Archives, RG 101/1659B.
[13] “England and Wales Death Registration Index 1837-2007,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVC6-M4CQ : accessed 28 September 2015), Margaret F Casbon, 1956;  citing General Register Office, Southport, vol 4A, p. 236, line 75.

Committed

The Cambridge Chronicle of 26 April 1862 contained this brief report.

Commitments to the Castle. … George Casbon, Meldreth, and John Reed, Whaddon,
running away from the Bassingbourn union with the clothes, 21 days each.

What does this mean? The report gives quite a bit of information, providing you understand some of the terminology and context.

It’s clear from reading the paragraph that all the named individuals have been accused of various crimes or infractions. What does it mean that they were committed to the Castle?

In Cambridgeshire, i.e., Cambridge County, the Castle was the nickname for the county jail (gaol in the U.K.). Thus, being committed to the Castle means being sentenced to spend time in the jail.

The term Castle comes from the fact that the original county jail was a former Norman castle. The castle was demolished in 1807 and a new jail built a short distance away. The Castle nickname remained with the new building. The site of the old castle is now called Castle Mound.

View of Cambridge Castle and Plan of Cambridge Castle engraved by Warren and published in Picturesque Views of the Antiquities of England & Wales, 1786; Public Domain, courtesy of ancestryimages.com

I have posted about people being committed to the Castle before. Ten-year-old John Casbon was briefly committed (before spending the rest of his seven-year sentence at a reform school) after being convicted of arson in 1852. James Casbon was sentenced to two months in the Castle for child neglect in 1870.

Who were George Casbon and John Reed?

George is one of the most common Casbon forenames, but only two Georges were born before 1862, one in 1836 and one in 1846. We can eliminate the first, George S. Casbon, for a few reasons. Although born in Meldreth, by 1862 he was no longer living there. He was married and working as a Wheelwright at Barley, Hertfordshire. The profile of a working man doesn’t match that of someone who would be running away from the Bassingbourn union, as I will explain.

That leaves George Casbon, the son of James and Elizabeth (Waller) Casbon, born at Meldreth 28 November 1846 and baptized there 16 March 1847, as the only remaining candidate.[1] George’s mother, Elizabeth, died of consumption in 1852.[2]

As to John Reed, I have found only one person by that name from Whaddon. He appears in the 1851 census as John Read, age 6.[3] His sister Susanna Read, age 21, is listed as head of household and a pauper. The father, William Reed, died in 1847.[4] Mary Reed, the mother, died in 1849.[5] Thus, the household we see in the 1851 census consists of their orphaned children, with John being the youngest.

George Casbon and John Reed both would have been about 16 years old when they ran away from the Bassingbourn union; but what was the Bassingbourn union?

Bassingbourn union was another name for the Royston Union Workhouse. Royston is a large town located at the northern border of Hertfordshire. In 1862, the border between Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire ran through the middle of Royston. The Royston Union Workhouse was located on the north, or Cambridgeshire side, of Baldock Road. The workhouse was located within Bassingbourn Parish in Cambridgeshire, hence the term Bassingbourn union.

Detail map showing locations of Meldreth, Whaddon, and Royston; adapted from Map of the County of Cambridge, from an Actual Survey made in the years 1832 & 1833 (London: Greenwood & Co., 1834); courtesy of David Rumsey Map Collection (https://www.davidrumsey.com/); image reproduction copyright © 2000 by Cartography Associates (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)
Detail from Ordnance Survey map, showing location of Royston Union Workhouse; Cambridgeshire LVIII.SW (Southampton: Ordnance Survey Office, 1886); Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland, Creative Commons License

Workhouses were institutions created to house and feed the poor and infirm. Each workhouse was administered by a poor law union consisting of several parishes. The Royston workhouse was built in 1836 and designed to accommodate 300 inmates.[6] In general, workhouses were segregated by sex and age: there were sections for the aged and infirm, children, able-bodied men, and able-bodied women.[7] Inmates were issued clothing, usually made from coarse materials.[8] Able-bodied inmates were expected to work, often at menial tasks; schooling and sometimes apprenticeships were provided to children.[9]

Why were the two boys in the workhouse? In the case of John Reed, we know that he was an orphan. With no means of financial support, the workhouse was probably his only option.

The situation with George Casbon is more complicated. We know that he lost his mother in 1852. His younger sister, Emma, died at the workhouse (my emphasis) in November 1853.[10] This suggests that after the death of George’s mother, either some or all of the children were sent to the workhouse.

My confusion is compounded by the fact that I haven’t been able to positively identify James Casbon or any of his children (except for daughter, Lydia, who was married) in the 1861 England census. I have speculated that James and his son Thomas were listed (in the 1861 census) in the village of Cottenham with the surname Randle. In addition, I think I’ve found James’s two youngest sons, George and John, at the Royston workhouse. The census uses initials for the inmates. Among these are the initials “C.G.” and “C.J.” (the first initial represents the surname), both from Meldreth.[11] Incidentally, the initials “R.J.,” which might stand for John Reed, from Whaddon, are also present on the same census page.

The final detail from the Cambridge Chronicle article is that the two boys were committed to the Castle for the offense of “running away from the Bassingbourn union with the clothes.” It’s unclear whether the offense was running away or taking the clothes, although I suspect it was the latter. I wish there was a little more detail. Which clothes did they take—their own or those belonging to other inmates? What did they intend to do with the clothes? Such is the way with family research—you never have all the answers.

What became of George and John? I’ll save most of George’s life for later posts but will say here that he eventually married and had a family of his own. He died at the village of Fowlmere, 18 October 1897.[12] He was 51 years old.

John Reed’s fate is unknown. I haven’t been able to identify him in any records after 1862.


[1] Meldreth (Cambridgeshire) Parish Records, baptisms [1813–1867], p. 63, no. 501; browsable images, FamilySearch ((https://familysearch.org/search/film/007567609?cat=210742 : accessed 28 Apr 2017).
[2] England, General Register Office, death registration, Royston & Buntingford/Melbourn, 1852, vol. 3A/134, no. 117.
[3] 1851 England census, Whaddon (Cambridgeshire), enumeration district 11, p. 4, line 12; imaged at Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=8860 : accessed 24 Apr 2020) >Cambridgeshire >Whaddon >4 >image 5 of 23.
[4] “England, Cambridgeshire Bishop’s Transcripts, 1599-1860,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1465708 : accessed 24 Apr 2020) >007681883 >image 704 of 733.
[5] “England, Cambridgeshire Bishop’s Transcripts, 1599-1860,” accessed 24 Apr 2020 >007681883 > image 709 of 733.
[6] Peter Higginbotham,“Royston, Herfordshire,” in The Workhouse: The story of an institution … (http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Royston/ : accessed 24 Apr 2020).
[7] “Workhouse,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workhouse#1834_Act : accessed 24 Apr 2020), rev. 18 Mar 2020, 01:28.
[8] Higginbotham, “Workhouse Uniform,” in The Workhouse: The story of an institution … .
[9] Higginbotham, “Work” and “Children in the Workhouse,” in The Workhouse: The story of an institution … .
[10] England, General Register Office, death registration, Royston & Buntingford/Melbourn, 1853, vol. 3A/107, no. 319.
[11] 1861 England census, Bassingbourn (Cambridgeshire), enumeration district 5, p. 77 (stamped) verso (6th page of entries for Royston Union Workhouse), lines 4 & 5; Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=8767 : accessed 24 April 2020) >Cambridgeshire >Bassingbourn >District 5 >image 23 of 25; National Archives.
[12] “Deaths,” Saffron Walden (Essex) Weekly News, 22 Oct 1897, p. 8, col. 8; British Newspaper Archive (accessed 14 Sep 2017.

Five Families, Eleven Weddings

Slocum … I’ve heard that name before; I wonder if she’s related?

Today’s post is an outgrowth of the two previous posts, in which I explored the connections between the Casbon and Aylesworth family trees. While conducting my Aylesworth research, I came upon the name of Martha Slocum, who married Philip Aylesworth, a member of the fourth generation of his family in America and a direct ancestor of many living Casbons.

The name Slocum was not new to me. William Wallace Slocum married Mary Casbon in Ohio, 1862.[1] After Mary died, he married Emma Payne in 1865 (see “From England to America, Part 8”).[2] Mary Casbon was the niece of Thomas Casbon, the original immigrant from England, and Emma Payne was the niece of Thomas’s wife, Emma Scruby. Emma Payne’s mother, Sarah Scruby, was married to James Payne of Meldreth, Cambridgeshire, England.

A little digging showed that Martha and William Wallace Slocum were distantly related. They were both descended from Giles Slocum ( ? –1682), who immigrated from England to Rhode Island before 1648.[3] Martha was descended from Giles’s son Samuel and William Wallace from Giles’s son Eleazar. Martha was in the fifth generation of descendants and William Wallace in the seventh.

So now I knew that the Slocum, Aylesworth, and Casbon families were all related to one another.

Furthermore, with William Wallace Slocum’s marriage to Emma Payne, the Slocums became connected to the Scruby family, who were already related to the Casbons through the marriage of Emma Scruby to Thomas Casbon and later through the marriage of Mary Payne (Emma Payne’s sister) to James Casbon.

Are you confused yet?

I decided to plot out all the ways that the Slocum, Aylesworth, Scruby (including Payne), and Casbon families were related. I added a fifth family, Priest, because I was aware of multiple connections on their part as well. Here is the result of my efforts.

Diagram depicting interconnected family trees of the Slocum (green), Aylesworth (orange), Scruby (pink), Casbon (blue) and Priest (yellow) families. Superscript numbers denote generations, with “1” depicting either the original immigrant (Slocum and Aylesworth) or the common ancestor (Scruby, Casbon, and Priest); colored lines indicate parent-child relationships and arrows depict direct descent through multiple generations; marriages are connected by black lines (Click on image to enlarge)

You’ll need to enlarge the diagram to see details.

As the title suggests, these five families are connected to each other through eleven marriages. Here is a summary of the connections for each family:

  • Slocum:
    – Connected to Aylesworth through the marriage of Martha5 Slocum to Philip4 Aylesworth, 1762[4]
    – Connected to Casbon through the marriage of William Wallace7 Slocum to Mary3 Casbon, 1862
    – Connected to Scruby through the marriage of William Wallace7 Slocum to Emma3 Payne, 1865
  • Aylesworth:
    – Connected to Slocum through the marriage of Philip4 Aylesworth to Martha5 Slocum, as above
    – Connected to Casbon through the marriages of Mary Adaline7 Aylesworth to Sylvester3 Casbon, 1860,[5] and Carrie Belle9 Aylesworth to Amos3 Casbon, 1900[6]
    – Connected to Scruby through the marriage of Louisa8 Aylesworth to George3 Scruby, 1872[7]
    – Connected to Priest through the marriage of Elliot7 Aylesworth to Caroline2 Priest, 1848[8]
  • Scruby:
    – Connected to Slocum through the marriage of Emma3 Payne to William Wallace7 Slocum, as above
    – Connected to Aylesworth through the marriage of George3 Scruby to Louisa8 Aylesworth, as above
    – Connected to Casbon through the marriages of Emma2 Scruby to Thomas2 Casbon, 1830,[9] and Mary3 Payne to James2 Casbon, 1876[10]
    – Connected to Priest through the marriage of James2 Scruby to Phebe2 Priest, 1824[11]
  • Casbon:
    – Connected to Slocum through the marriage of Mary3 Casbon to William Wallace7 Slocum, as above
    – Connected to Aylesworth through the marriages of Sylvester3 Casbon to Mary Adaline7 Aylesworth and Amos3 Casbon to Carrie Belle9 Aylesworth, as above
    – Connected to Scruby through the marriages of Thomas2 Casbon to Emma2 Scruby and James2 Casbon to Mary3 Payne, as above
    – Connected to Priest through the marriage of Mary Ann3 Casbon to Elijah2 Priest, 1853[12]
  • Priest:
    – Connected to Aylesworth through the marriage of Caroline2 Priest to Elliot7 Aylesworth, as above
    – Connected to Scruby through the marriage of Phebe2 Priest to James2 Scruby
    – Connected to Casbon through the marriage of Elijah2 Priest to Mary Ann3 Casbon, as above

Three of the families—Aylesworth, Scruby, and Casbon—are connected by marriage to all four of the remaining families. The remaining two families—Slocum and Priest—are connected to three of the other four families. Of the marriages, one took place in England, one in Rhode Island, six in Ohio, and three in Indiana.

The chart shows how entangled family trees can become. I’m going to coin a new term for this. Instead of a family tree, this is a family hedge! It’s an accurate description of what we see, with branches from several families intermingling and creating complex relationships.

I suspect this occurs more often than we might realize, but we might not see it because we’re not looking for it. Have you discovered any hedges in your family history?

[1] Ohio, Huron County, Marriage Records, vol. 1 [1855–1866], p. 350; imaged as “Ohio, County Marriages, 1789–2013,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XZ65-99 : accessed 21 Jul 2016) >Huron >Marriage Records 1855–1866 vol 1 >image 220 of 306.
[2] Ohio, Huron County, Marriage Records, vol. 1 [1855–1866], p. 465, no. 2779; imaged as “Ohio, County Marriages, 1789–2013,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XZ65-99 : accessed 22 May 2018) >Huron >Marriage Records 1855–1866 vol 1 >image 277 of 306.
[3] “Giles Slocum (abt. 1623 – aft. 1683),” article, WikiTree (https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Slocum-10 : accessed 9 Apr 2020).
[4] James Newell Arnold, Rhode Island Vital Extracts, 1636–1850, volume 1 (Providence, R.I.: Narragansett Historical Publishing Company, 1891), p. 4; imaged at Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/search/collections/3897/ : accessed 2 Apr 2020) >Vol· 01: Kent County: Births, Marriages, Deaths >image 432 of 637.
[5] Indiana, Porter County, Marriage Record Book 2 [Dec. 1850–Jun. 186], p. 458; Valparaiso (Indiana) Public Library.
[6] Indiana, Porter County, Marriage Record, vol. 12 [Nov. 1898–Oct. 1901], p. 326; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/005014498?cat=608739 : accessed 8 Apr 2020) > Film # 005014497 >image 548 of 922.
[7] Ohio, Holmes County, Marriage Record, vol. 5 [1868–1877], p. 217; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/004024929?cat=229343 : accessed 8 Apr 2020) > Ohio, County Marriages, 1789-2013 >Holmes >Marriage records 1868-1877 vol 5 >image 491 of 649.
[8] Ohio, Wayne County, Marriage Record, vol. 4B [1843–1851], p. 377; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/004260649?cat=335541 : accessed 26 Aug 2016) >Film # 004260649 >image 550 of 644.
[9] Church of England, Melbourn (Cambridgeshire), Marriages, 1813–1837, p. 59, no. 175; browsable images, ” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/007549343?cat=210722 : accessed 5 Feb. 2019) >image 318 of 710.
[10] Indiana, Porter County, Marriage Record, vol. 4 [Sep. 1871–Jan. 1875], p. 348; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/005014495?cat=608739 : accessed 8 Apr 2020) > Film # 005014494 >image 693 of 928.
[11] Ohio, Wayne County, Marriage Record, vol. 4A [1835–1843], p. 91; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/004260649?cat=335541 : accessed 8 Apr 2020) >Film # 004260649 >image 77 of 644.
[12] Ohio, Wayne County, Marriage Record, vol. 4 (1-2) [1844–1856], p. 140; FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/film/004260672?cat=335541 : accessed 8 Apr 2020) > Film # 004260672 >image 97 of 720.